I honestly had no idea what to expect as I walked toward the parking lot at First Baptist Church on Monday, Aug. 24, on the arrival of the long-awaited Republican National Convention to Charlotte. My business partner and publisher Justin LaFrancois and I were heading to check out a rally scheduled for 2 p.m. and hosted by Deplorable Pride, a local pro-Trump and pro-LGBTQ group that likes to play on its seemingly contrasting beliefs to stir shit wherever shit can be stirred.
Though delegates arrived in the city over the weekend and I had already been pepper-sprayed to kingdom come by police during protests on three previous nights, the real crux of the Republican National Convention was happening during four short hours on Monday, with Trump swooping into town to accept his nomination before leaving for appearances elsewhere in the state.
His fan base had to get out there and wave their flags while they could.
As I’m writing this, I have only just returned from having spent about an hour in the First Baptist Church parking lot (the church itself was not involved in the event) and I’m still reeling a bit from what I did see: the good, the bad, and the weird.
The first thing we came across when we entered the lot was perhaps the last thing I expected to see: a big yellow school bus with a basketball hoop installed on the front that had “Black Lives Matter” painted on the backboard.
Tucked into the windshield wipers on the bus was a deflated balloon rendering of Donald Trump in a diaper, with “Stop police murders” written in Sharpie across his face. Parked 20 feet from the bus was a van wrapped in a collage depicting Black leaders of the cultural, political and athletic realms. The van was blasting music from a sliding door on the other side that read, “Revolution Beats.”
This seemed intriguing.
Upon chatting with a few of the folks hanging out around the bus, I found that they weren’t there just to troll the Trumpers as I had suspected at first, but were actually just taking a break from a much more important mission.
“The Hoop Bus” left from Venice, California, in early August and has been traveling the country helping to restore basketball courts in underserved communities. The bus was restored six months ago in honor of Kobe Bryant, and after showing up to more than 50 protests around the Los Angeles area — even having the bus seized by LAPD at one point — the crew set off on a different type of mission.
In March, cities around the country took down basketball rims as one of the first countermeasures against the spread of COVID-19. Now that parks have been allowed to reopen and basketball is no longer seen as such a high-risk activity, most cities have been slow to replace the rims, especially in disinvested neighborhoods. So The Hoop Bus rides around with its big stock of fresh rims and installs them free of charge. They also help rebuild courts while hosting clinics, games, giveaways and more.
The group was in Charlotte for an event on Sunday night and when they realized the Republican National Convention was in town they figured they’d stick around and play a few jams in the parking lot by day, then join the protests by night.
They also brought along Harry Perry, who stood further off in the parking lot shredding away on his guitar while a group of four played basketball on another hoop installed on the back of the bus. Perry had the biggest smile on his face when I approached him. He wasn’t one for talking in that moment, just riffing, and that was all the more enjoyable. He stopped at one point and handed me a CD, then went right back to noodling.
A Wikipedia search would later tell me that Perry began playing for passersby on the Venice Beach Boardwalk back in 1973, and not only is he considered the most famous musician on the Boardwalk, but also one of the area’s best skaters —both roller and inline. I wish I could have seen him on skates, too, but I won’t get greedy.
Eventually I turned my attention to the Deplorable Pride rally, almost forgetting why I came in the first place.
I should have forgotten.
I approached the rally taking place on the sidewalk of South Caldwell Street as a dozen or so folks waved flags or held signs decrying the sin of abortion. I quickly learned upon approaching the group that not all of the attendees were there to support Deplorable Pride.
I could hear the group’s founder and lead mouthpiece Brian Talbert before I could see him, though his telltale rainbow “Don’t Tread On Me” flag gave him away long before that. He was screaming, of course, but not at any counter-protesters or other libtard on the sidewalk. He was actually yelling at an old man wearing a U.S. Army hat and holding a huge sign with a too-long-to-transcribe Bible quote; let’s just say it was fucking ridiculous and move on.
The evangelical veteran had apparently told Talbert what he thought of his sinful lifestyle, and by the time I walked up, Talbert was right in his face in a way that will make anyone who believes in science squeamish for decades to come.
Trump rally is seeing some infighting as Deplorable Pride founder argues with evangelical over the latter’s anti-LGBTQ beliefs. pic.twitter.com/fSeCcLmw1S
— Queen City Nerve (@queencitynerve) August 24, 2020
Things went back and forth, with the evangelical screaming the F-word at Talbert and him yelling bigot back. At one point someone drove by and yelled the N-word at Black activists who were also in the lot. Safe to say there were enough slurs flying around those few blocks around the Republican National Convention to make anyone uncomfortable.
Also at the rally were a Latinx man wearing a “Hispanics for Trump shirt” and yelling about how anyone who can’t come to the country legally doesn’t deserve to be here, and an older Black man with a QAnon t-shirt and a “Trump: No Bullshit” hat pacing the sidewalk and speaking into his phone about how all lives matter.
The cognitive dissonance on that sidewalk alone was enough to make me thankful that the convention had been scaled back to a four-hour window. I covered the Democratic National Convention in 2012, and while I saw my share of idiocy during that week, the thought of this one small group being proliferated into tens of thousands of people wandering block after block in Uptown made me cringe to the point where I just didn’t want to be there anymore.
Now I’m here writing this, and to be honest I don’t have much of a takeaway from my experience other than to say this: In a parking lot full of deplorables, try to find your Hoop Bus.[Correction: An earlier version of this article claimed that Brian Talbert also used the homophobic f-word slur at Monday’s rally — assuming it was used sarcastically or ironically — when in fact he was yelling bigot. We apologize for the mistake.]